Wednesday, February 4, 2015

4 Tips for Improving Communication at Work

By Guest Blogger Vivian Ciampi

As workplace dynamics become more complex, leaders have less time than ever to coach and mentor employees. New managers are also to taught how to effectively navigate the "gray area" of an organization--the environment and culture driven by human nature, internal and external politics, industry guidelines, company protocols and market pressures, among other factors. The result? Too many employees and executives are ill-equipped to engage with an audience—any audience—with ease and intention.

These four tactical tips can help a professional at any level become a more effective communicator:
  1. Become the “universal translator.” A successful communicator can translate facts, figures and concepts into actionable ideas that make sense and resonate with their direct network. The universal translator steps out of his/her comfort zone or discipline; let’s go of any insider department lingo or technical terms and focuses on the audience at hand; suggests specific ways others can move forward with the information relative to what is important to them; and presents the vision, plan or theory in a way that is clear, crisp confident and actionable. If others can understand, relate to and rally around what you are presenting, it is sure to yield winning results.
  2. Meet before you meet. To avoid having your message derailed, determine who your key constituents are relative to your topic ahead of time; set up one-on-one meetings with each constituent a few days in advance of the larger formal presentation; socialize the topic with each constituent and make sure you understand their perspective and answer any questions or concerns ahead of time. Through this process, you will gain valuable information to help refine your presentation. Socializing the idea ahead of time may feel like extra work, but the benefits outweigh the additional time—and the real risks of not doing so. This strategy will facilitate your ability to effectively cover a lot of ground and actually garner decisions in the meeting without playing catch-up or spending valuable time trying to get everyone on the same page. Effective communication, speed and alignment are a few of the key advantages here.
  3. Stop, ask and listen. Today’s fast-paced workplace may encourage you to rush through conversations and move on to the next task. Doing so will never yield a productive outcome. The best way to approach key conversations that need a little extra finesse or persuasion, particularly in the midst of a time-pressed schedule, are the following: Take a breath so you don’t rush into your agenda in the first 5 minutes of the conversation, then ask open-ended questions, such as “What’s going on in your department?” or “How has this system helped you? Once the person responds, listen actively and give that individual ample time to convey his/her thoughts without your interjection, direction or interruption. The key insights you gain from these conversations will help you craft a more informed response. Even if you already know the answer or have a brilliant retort, slow down and let others speak first as this puts them in a better position to take in what you say in response. When you do respond, stay focused on who your audience is and what they care about to ensure that your dialogue and key points are streamlined and succinct. This tactic also helps build more productive, trusting professional relationships. Adhering to this strategy will also garner tremendous goodwill throughout the organization as you start to hone a discipline of talking less and listening more.
  4. Converse with clarity. People are inundated with data, work under tight deadlines and talk in acronyms. Some technical people and other professionals tend to use a lot of insider jargon and industry terminology when they communicate, making it difficult for anyone outside their immediate network to understand. Rather than contributing poorly to the conversation or sitting on the sidelines as the dialogue ensues, pick the right setting and ask clarifying questions to ensure your message remains on point and resultant activities on track. If unsure where to start, the basic who, what, where, when, why and how is a sensible approach. For example, “Why are we doing this?”; “How will that work?” or “Where will this help the organization?” This strategy fosters clear dialogue, makes people accountable to answer direct questions and often uncovers problems that need to be addressed. 
Vivian Ciampi is a principal at Professional Coaching LLC, a firm that helps organizations accelerate the growth and success of their top talent. Ciampi is also a coach and facilitator in the executive education department at Harvard Business School. Prior to starting her own business, she led teams and managed businesses at JP Morgan Chase and Travelers Property Casualty. Ciampi holds an M.B.A. from the University of Connecticut, and a B.A. in Economics from Fairfield University.